British PM Theresa May loses vote on no-deal Brexit powers; The UK Parliament has narrowly approved a bill that would limit government tax-raising powers in the event of a no-deal scenario. The government said it would make no difference to Britain leaving the EU on March 29. Lawmakers in the British House of Commons have voted 303-296 to back a Finance Bill amendment that would prohibit government spending on no-deal measures that Parliament does not authorize. The result is a setback for Prime Minister Theresa May’s government, which would have its tax-raising powers trimmed in the event of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal on March 29. Twenty members of May’s Conservative Party are understood to have voted against the government. “This vote is an important step to prevent a no-deal Brexit,” said Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party. “It shows that there is no majority in Parliament, the Cabinet or the country for crashing out of the EU without an agreement.” The government has played down the importance of the defeat, saying it would address taxation issues as the need arose. “This amendment does not change the fact that the UK is leaving the EU on …29 March, and it will not stop the government from collecting tax,” a government spokesman said. “We will work with Parliament to make sure that the tax system works smoothly in all Brexit scenarios.”
Outrage in Germany after brutal attack on AfD lawmaker Frank Magnitz; Was the brutal attack on AfD lawmaker Frank Magnitz a politically motivated attack, or even an attempt on his life? Some of his fellow party members believe so and blame their political foes for stoking hatred. Monday’s attack on Bremen’s Alternative for Germany (AfD) leader Frank Magnitz is not the first time the far-right populist party has been targeted in the northern German city. In the past, windows have been smashed and a car vandalized. Yet the brutal beating of Magnitz does mark a new level of violence in Bremen. The 66-year-old Magnitz, who remains hospitalized, was reportedly set upon by masked assailants, who struck the parliamentarian in the head with an object. When Magnitz went to the ground, the attackers apparently continued beating him. Passersby ultimately came to his aid.
German hacker behind massive political data leak identified; German authorities say a 20-year-old, acting alone, was behind a huge leak of personal data concerning leading politicians and celebrities. The man has confessed, but questions remain about German cybersecurity. Germany’s investigative police force, the BKA, has arrested the hacker responsible for what some have called one of the largest data leaks in Germany’s history. The 20-year-old from the western German state of Hesse could now face charges of stealing and illegally publishing private data. “The suspect was questioned on January 7 by the responsible prosecutor and BKA officials,” the BKA announced in a statement. “He extensively confessed to the accusations against him and provided helpful information beyond his own crimes.” According to the BKA, the suspect said he was acting alone, and there are no indications of anyone else or any foreign state being involved. The BKA said the suspect had indicated he was motivated by “anger at the public statements of the politicians, journalists and public figures concerned.” The published material included personal data from Chancellor Angela Merkel and other political leaders, celebrities and journalists. Hundreds of politicians from all political parties except the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) were affected. But BKA President Holger Münch said authorities were not treating the hack as a political crime and that the suspect had no known ties to right-wing extremism in Germany. The BKA said the suspect’s apartment had been searched on Sunday, after which he was taken into custody. The home of a 19-year-old man in Heilbronn, a town north of Stuttgart, who had contact with the hacker was also searched. He is cooperating with authorities as a witness.
Germany charges Syrian for killing that sparked Chemnitz violence; A Syrian asylum-seeker has been charged with manslaughter over a killing that triggered violent protests and clashes with police. But German authorities said one of the main suspects is still on the loose. German prosecutors on Tuesday formally charged a Syrian asylum-seeker with manslaughter and serious bodily harm in the killing of a German-Cuban citizen, which triggered violent protests in Chemnitz. Prosecutors said Alaa S. had fatally stabbed the man in his arm and chest, along with another alleged perpetrator, identified as Farhad A. Iraqi asylum-seeker Farhad A. fled after the attack and remains at large. But German authorities have issued an international arrest warrant for his arrest. Prosecutors said more than 100 witnesses were questioned through the investigation into the attack. They were able to determine that the incident began when Farhad A. engaged in an argument with the victim, after which he stabbed the man. Alaa S. later joined in.
EU sanctions Iran over thwarted attacks on European soil; Brussels has backed sanctions against Iran for its involvement in assassination attempts in France and Denmark. For some European governments, the measures are long overdue. The EU on Tuesday approved sanctions against an Iranian ministry and two Iranian nationals for their involvement in thwarted assassination attempts in France and Denmark. For months now, EU countries have been pressuring Brussels to enact disciplinary measures against Tehran for what they describe as hostile actions committed by a state actor.
What was announced: 1)The EU targeted Iran’s Intelligence and Security Ministry and two Iranian nationals. 2)The sanctions mean the ministry and individuals’ assets were frozen. Travel bans have also been imposed. 3)Two Iranian diplomats were expelled from the Netherlands in 2018, not for their direct involvement but “as a clear signal” that Iran’s probable involvement is unacceptable. 4)The disciplinary measures do not stem from nor impact the Iran nuclear deal.
Poland, Italy forge populist alliance ahead of European Parliament elections; Italy’s Matteo Salvini and Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski share a similar brand of nationalist politics. As the two meet in Warsaw, they are hoping to create a united conservative bloc for the European Parliament elections. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is set to meet Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), in Warsaw on Wednesday. Ever since Italy’s populist coalition government, comprised of the right-wing League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement, took power last year, it has represented a natural ally for Kaczynski and his fellow Central European populist leaders At a meeting in August 2018, Salvini praised right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for erecting barbed wired fences along his country’s border with Serbia and Croatia. And Orban, in turn, views the anti-immigrant Salvini as a “hero and like-minded ally” for his efforts to stop refugees accessing Italy via the Mediterranean. Italy’s government has alleged that migrants spread diseases in Europe — a claim that Kaczynski himself made four years ago during an election campaign. And Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte agrees with his conservative Czech counterpart Andrej Babis, who promised his compatriots the country would not accept any refugees in order to protect “European civilization.”
Germany pledges full EU support for Ireland over Brexit; German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has reiterated that the EU finds a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland “unacceptable.” He warned of “serious damage” in the event of a no-deal scenario. Speaking alongside his Irish counterpart, Simon Coveney, on Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the EU would not accept a hard border between Ireland, an EU member state, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. Maas pledged the EU’s full support for the Republic of Ireland in the face of increasing uncertainty ahead of a fast-approaching deadline for Britain’s exit from the European Union. The border issue is one of the most contentious in the Brexit negotiations.
UN under attack? World body hit hard after US pullback; The year 2019 started off at the United Nations with Somalia brazenly kicking out the UN envoy, followed soon after by Guatemala ditching a UN-sponsored anti-corruption commission. After a tough year that saw the United States, the UN’s top financial backer, cut funding, pull out of the Human Rights Council and scrap UN-backed agreements, the United Nations is taking more hard hits. Some UN watchers are questioning whether the global organization created at the end of World War II to safeguard world peace is facing a slow demise, increasingly under attack by governments with nationalist agendas. Nearing the half-way mark in his five-year tenure, UN chief Antonio Guterres has warned that multilateralism is under fire at a time when the world needs it most. Leading the anti-UN charge is President Donald Trump whose America-First approach to foreign policy has emboldened other governments to thumb their noses at the United Nations, analysts say. “The UN is having a nerve-wracking start to 2019,” said Richard Gowan, senior policy fellow at UN University. While the United Nations may not be on the brink of total collapse, “the Trump administration’s attitude encourages others to defy the UN,” he said. On Monday, the new envoy for Syria, Geir Petersen of Norway, took up his post as the UN’s fourth peace broker, but the United Nations has been sidelined by Russia and Iran in its efforts to end nearly eight years of war. Peacekeeping — at the heart of the UN’s security approach — is under serious financial strain after the United States announced plans in late December to further cut back its budget contribution.
Mexico probes state oil company’s ex-security chief for fuel theft; Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is waging a major crack-down on fuel theft, announced Tuesday an investigation into the former security chief of state oil company Pemex. Army general Eduardo Leon Trauwitz, the man who was charged with fighting the large-scale tapping of Pemex’s pipelines by Mexican gangs, is under investigation for involvement in the multi-billion-dollar criminal industry he was supposed to fight. “He’s on a list of people who are being investigated in relation to this, although there is nothing definitive yet,” Lopez Obrador told a press conference. Fuel-theft gangs have turned illegal taps of Pemex’s oil and gas pipelines into a massive black-market industry that cost the country an estimated $3 billion last year — a problem Lopez Obrador has vowed to fight head-on. However, his crackdown sparked a backlash this week as tighter controls on fuel deliveries led to shortages at service stations and stoked widespread anger among consumers.
Botched coup signals Bongo’s weakened grip on Gabon; While the rapid failure of Monday’s coup in Gabon highlighted the plotters’ lack of preparedness and support, analysts say the attempt alone signals mounting frustration with a government weakened by President Ali Bongo’s secretive medical leave. Gabonese security forces foiled an attempted military coup on Monday, killing two suspected plotters and capturing seven others just hours after they took over state radio and urged the people of Gabon to “rise up” against the Bongo family’s 50-year rule. Government spokesman Guy-Bertrand Mapangou announced the deaths and arrests after mutinous soldiers briefly seized the radio station in the capital, Libreville, and broadcast a message saying Bongo, who suffered a stroke in October, was no longer fit for office. “The situation is under control,” Mapangou told FRANCE 24, describing the botched coup as a “flash in the pan” and its perpetrators – who referred to themselves as the Patriotic Youth Movement of the Gabonese Defence and Security Forces – as a “fictitious group” led by a “complete unknown”.
Madagascar court confirms Rajoelina presidential win; “Andry Rajoelina is declared the elected president of the republic,” said Judge Jean-Eric Rakotoarisoa, triggering celebrations among Rajoelina supporters gathered in the capital Antananarivo. In the run-off vote on December 19, Rajoelina took 55.7 percent and Marc Ravalomanana won 44.3 percent, according to the final results. Ravalomanana had complained of widespread fraud and petitioned the Constitutional Court.
Ghosn ‘wanted Nissan to pay $28 mil. to Saudi man’; NHK has learned that former Nissan Motor chairman Carlos Ghosn allegedly tried to loan millions of dollars of company funds to a Saudi businessman as part of his efforts to obtain a credit guarantee for his financial deals. Sources say Ghosn initially told Nissan to extend a loan of 28 million dollars to Khaled Al-Juffali after a bank requested additional collateral for losses the former chairman had incurred from currency swap contracts. The sources say an internal document substantiates this. But the loan wasn’t made because Nissan officials were skeptical about the transaction. Juffali reportedly sent 28 million dollars of his own money to a foreign bank to help Ghosn get the guarantee. Ghosn is accused of arranging an illicit payment of about 15 million dollars from a Nissan subsidiary to a company owned by the businessman. Ghosn told a court hearing on Tuesday that the businessman was a longtime partner of Nissan and denied that the payment was illegal. He said it was an appropriate reward approved by the relevant divisions, not a token of thanks for help in connection with the swap deals, as prosecutors say.
Thai protests mount over possible election delay; Demonstrators rallied across Thailand on Tuesday to protest a possible postponement by the military-led government of the country’s general elections. Students and other activists gathered in the capital Bangkok, Chiang Mai and three other cities to protest the government’s delay in announcing the elections. Thailand’s military-led interim government said last week that it was considering delaying elections planned for February to hand over power to a civilian administration. The military has led the country since a coup in 2014. On Tuesday, interim Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha responded to reporters’ questions about the voting schedule. He said the king has yet to give his approval. The government has suggested that it may delay the elections to avoid a conflict with an upcoming royal coronation. In Bangkok, about 200 students marched outside a train station, chanting slogans and banging on drums. A 26-year-old woman watching the demonstration said the possible delay makes her feel like she is being lied to by the government.
South Korean President shakes up top aides; South Korean President Moon Jae-in has announced a new line-up of close aides. It’s being seen as an attempt to tackle falling approval ratings. South Korea’s presidential office said on Tuesday that Moon has decided to replace the Chief Presidential Secretary. Noh Young-min, ambassador to China, will now fill the role. Noh is a former lawmaker who served as a senior official in both of Moon’s presidential election campaigns. The president has also replaced his top secretary for political affairs, and his senior secretary for public relations. Moon’s support rating once briefly topped 80-percent after he took office in May 2017. It’s since plummeted to the 40-percent level. The public has grown frustrated about his economic policies– and a minimum wage hike drew opposition from smaller firms. Improved relations with North Korea were considered the key to boosting the government’s approval rating. But… there has been no major progress on the issue of denuclearizing the North.